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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Opposition leader leaves DR Congo
Jean-Pierre Bemba (file image)
Mr Bemba will receive medical treatment for a leg injury
The Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition leader has arrived in Portugal after being given permission to go abroad for medical treatment.

His departure comes three weeks after his militia, who had refused to disarm, clashed with government forces.

The ex-rebel leader was threatened with an arrest warrant for treason and took up refuge at the South African embassy.

The clashes had threatened to derail the peace process, which followed five years of bitter conflict.

No crowds

About 15 United Nations armoured vehicles escorted Mr Bemba all the way from the South African embassy in Kinshasa to the capital's airport.

A group of people stand around a pool of blood in Kinshasa

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in Kinshasa says ironically the convoy crossed through the poor eastern districts of the capital where a few months ago more than a million of his militant supporters have taken to the streets.

Mr Bemba was then running for presidency.

But it was dark when the UN escorted Mr Bemba out of the DR Congo and there was no-one to wave goodbye to the 44-year-old opposition leader, our reporter says.

The former vice-president and his family left aboard his own Boeing 727 aeroplane.

He was given permission to go to Portugal for 60 days to receive treatment on his leg, say officials at the Senate, where Mr Bemba has a seat.

Our correspondent says there is speculation the trip may be used as a diplomatic move to ease tension following last month's clashes.

Before the announcement, hundreds of Mr Bemba's supporters demonstrated in the north-western town of Mbandaka, denouncing what they called threats and the illegal arrests of opposition members.

Fragile peace

President Joseph Kabila defeated Mr Bemba in a second round run-off presidential election last October.

Soldiers loyal to former Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba (l) in Kinshasa
Many of Mr Bemba's personal guard have now disarmed

This was hailed as the first democratic poll in the country for more than 40 years.

Mr Bemba, who had won 42% of the votes, had accepted his defeat and was supposed to lead DR Congo's opposition.

But 500 of his armed guards refused to lay down their weapons and join the national army.

Last month government troops had to use heavy artillery to overwhelm them.

Mr Bemba denied plotting military action to overthrow the president and accused the army of trying to kill him.

Two days of intense fighting in the capital may have left up to 600 people dead, according to EU diplomats.

Mr Bemba enjoys immunity from prosecution because he is an elected member of the Senate.

Our correspondent says since the fighting his militia have scattered - some have disarmed and are being held by the UN or army.

Officially Mr Bemba has left for medical reasons.

He has promised the Portuguese government he will not take part in political activities while in Portugal.

But some observers fear his departure also means the effort to establish democracy in DR Congo might be hampered.

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